"This will have a serious impact on Japan's future space policy, space business and technological competitiveness."
What was meant to be the inaugural launch of Japan's Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) newest H3 rocket ended in dismal disappointment.
The H3 rocket's initial liftoff at 10:37am appeared to go smoothly. The 200-foot craft slowly heaved itself off the ground with its first stage engine before blasting into the morning skies above the Tanegashima Space Center, located in southern Japan.
But before long, JAXA encountered an irremediable hiccup: it couldn't initiate the H3's second stage engine. Without it kicking in, JAXA could no longer safely control the flight path of the H3.
Left with no other choice, the agency initiated the rocket's self-destruction, dooming the Advanced Land Observation Satellite it was carrying onboard.
"A destruct command has been transmitted to H3 around 10:52 am, because there was no possibility of achieving the mission," JAXA said in a statement.
Japan's H3 rocket failed to launch after encountering an issue with its stage two engine
A self-destruct command was sent as @JAXA_en admitted there was no longer any possibility of achieving the mission. The rocket was destroyed along with its ALOS-3 satellite payload pic.twitter.com/bEhrZJzpw5
— New Scientist (@newscientist) March 7, 2023
Needless to say, the aborted launch is a massive blow to JAXA, with the Japanese government calling the event "extremely regrettable," according to Reuters. As its first new rocket in over 20 years, Japan has so far sunk some $1.5 billion into developing the H3 as a competitor to SpaceX's Falcon 9.
"I know many people were waiting for and looking forward to this day. I'm so sorry. We also feel extremely regretful and frustrated," said JAXA project manager Masashi Okada at a news conference, as quoted by The Associated Press.
Leading up to this latest setback, the rocket program had been endlessly delayed. As recently as last month, the H3 had already experienced an aborted launch after its initial rocket booster failed to ignite.
"Unlike the previous cancellation and postponement, this time it was a complete failure," said Hirotaka Watanabe, a space policy expert and professor at Osaka University, told Reuters.
"This will have a serious impact on Japan's future space policy, space business and technological competitiveness," he added.
A pending investigation will have to reveal the underlying causes of the massive mishap, but from the outset, Okada believes the problem is most likely related to a malfunctioning electrical system involved in the initial liftoff stage, rather than with the second stage engine itself.
"We will investigate the cause as soon as possible and do our utmost to try again," Okada said.
At the very least, the safety features worked as intended, and the rocket's debris is believed to have fallen harmlessly in an empty stretch of ocean near the Philippines.
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